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Ralliart revival!

Go-fast Mitsus: Concept Sportback, Evo IX sedan and Colt CZT. Digital image: Chris Harris

On the eve of its new 380, Mitsubishi rallies behind a reborn fast-car franchise

24 Aug 2005

JUST two weeks out from the most important new-model launch it has ever held, a tense Mitsubishi Motors Australia has revealed how crucial its all-new 380 sedan is to Australia’s fourth-largest car-maker.

But senior Mitsubishi Australia officials have also stressed next month’s Magna replacement is just the beginning of an entire model range renewal over the next two years.

Central to its future as an automotive manufacturer is a plan to rejuvenate its stagnant Ralliart franchise, which will be expanded to include everything from next month’s new Lancer Evo IX sedan to two hot new Colt turbos and, possibly, a two-door Pajero and turbocharged AWD 380 sedan.

Speaking at last week’s launch of the MY2006 Lancer 2.4 and Evo IX sedans, Mitsubishi Australia’s executive vice-president of sales and marketing, Masaharu Iwata, was blunt about the importance of 380’s success.

"The 380 is extremely important because the fate of Tonsley Park depends on it," he said.

Mr Iwata said the annual sales forecast for the US-market Galant-based 380 was 30,000 plus 2000 for New Zealand – which at 50 per cent of capacity representsbreakeven point for the factory.

But the Mitsubishi sales chief was upbeat about the company’s future, and hopes a revitalised Ralliart model range and Ralliart dealer network – which is expected to expand from 18 to an eventual 30 or more – will lift the brand’s image in Australia.

"Now we can ask for new products instead of just getting hand-me-downs," he said, confirming that two hot new turbocharged Colt variants will join an expanded Ralliart stable within 12 months.

Mitsubishi Australia has struggled to source a lower-specified three-door Colt light car to create a sub-$15,000 entrant below the current $18,990 entry price of the Colt LS CVT five-door.

However, the Colt line-up will be bolstered in mid-2006 by a pair of turbocharged, Ralliart-badged Colts – including the funky new Colt Coupe-Cabriolet (based on the CZ2 Cabrio concept) and either a European-sourced three-door (based on the CZ3 concept) or a yet-to-appear Japanese-spec five-door.

While the hot new Colts will be priced above $30,000 and should rival the likes of Peugeot’s 206CC/GTi and Holden’s forthcoming Tigra, an upgraded Euro 3 emissions-compliant Colt will be launched before then in November.

Around the same time a luxury-spec Grandis will be introduced to bring Mitsubishi’s people-mover range in line with Honda’s successful Odyssey range, while an all-new Triton ute will arrive late in the second quarter of 2006.

Late next year Mitsubishi will release redesigned versions of both its compact Outlander and mid-sized Pajero SUVs, with the latter expected to feature a new V6 and common-rail turbo-diesel technology – as well as spawning a 3.8-litre MIVEC V6-equipped short-wheelbase two-door derivative.

Manual-only and featuring off-road kit such as Hella driving lights, the Ralliart-badged off-roader could mark the return of a SWB Pajero for the fi rst time in 10 years.

Though unconfirmed for Australia, Mr Iwata said such a model would need to find at least 1000 homes a year to be viable.

He was less forthcoming about the possibility of a Ralliart-badged 380 sedan, but was openly excited by the prospect and did not rule out the possibility of all-wheel drive returning to Mitsubishi’s large-car arsenal.

"The 380 will be at the peak of its ability – any more power and we’d have to go to AWD," he said. "AWD is not in the plan (for 380), but of course Mitsubishi has the technology... and we have turbo technology too.

"But first 380 must be successful. We’ll see how well it goes before we re-evaluate."Mitsubishi Motors Corporation recently revealed a 10kg-lighter, five per cent more powerful version of its 2.4 MIVEC engine (125kW/226Nm), which will power the next-generation Outlander and Lancer.

The latter will be previewed at next month’s Frankfurt motor show as theConcept Sportback, which reveals the styling direction of Mitsubishi’s next Evo– which is likely to be preceded in Australia by a revised "Evo 9.5" model.

If the next-generation Lancer hatch is released here, it will arrive in 2008. Before then, the current CH Lancer will receive a significant midlife cosmetic facelift.

Profit, not market share, will feed Adelaide families

MITSUBISHI Australia’s sales and marketing chief Masaharu Iwata has vowed to sacrifice market share to ensure its new 380 is profitable.

"Profitability is more important than market share, especially in our current economic situation," he told GoAuto last week. "I see the workers everyday and market share won’t feed their families."Mr Iwata was also adamant the 380 would not be discounted.

"Once we set the RRP we will stick to it and this will give confidence to the private buyer," he said.

"We have to be very careful in determining the right price – if we’re not successful I haven’t done my job and Tonsley Park would be at risk.

"We won’t lose money on a single car and there should be a comfortable balance between private and fleet sales."Mr Iwata, who has worked with the Mitsubishi Corporation since 1977 and before his secondment Down Under was representing Mitsubishi’s interests on the Proton board in Malaysia, took over the Australian sales and marketing role almost 12 months ago.

One of his first tasks was to embark on a nationwide tour of Mitsubishi dealerships to investigate Magna’s failure.

"The first thing I noticed was the impression that Magna was not a great new car but a great used car," he said.

"I asked myself: How can this be? So I went around the country listening to what dealers and customers had to say. That’s how I understood what MMAL was about.

"My assessment of Magna is resentment for not replacing it (sooner) and for indiscriminate price reductions.

"I don’t have a panacea, no way, (but) for us to be successful our dealers have to be successful.

"I listen to the dealers because they are closer to the customer,"” he said.

Mitsubishi’s 380, which is based on the US Galant and in Australia will comprise five sedan variants but no wagon option, remains on track for its national media launch in Sydney over September 8-9, the culmination of a slow-release launch campaign.

What's coming from Mitsubishi:

Lancer Evo IX sedan - mid-Sep
MY06 Lancer sedan/wagon - mid-Sep
Colt engine upgrade - November
Revised Grandis range - late-2005
New Triton - late second quarter 2006
Ralliart Colt turbo 5D - mid-2006
Ralliart Colt CC turbo - mid-2006
New Pajero - Sep 2006
New Outlander - late-2006
Ralliart SWB Pajero 3D - 2007
Ralliart 380 sedan - 2007
New Lancer sedan/hatch - 2008

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